No decision yet on first customer for Alabama-built Airbus A320

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Airbus has not yet decided which US airline will take delivery of the first A320 assembled at the new Mobile, Alabama, plant in 2016, but there are two clear favourites for the distinction.

The question first appeared to flummox Airbus executives because no decision has yet been made. Barry Eccleston, president and chief executive of Airbus Americas, joked: "We'll hold an auction and see who bids the highest for the first one.

"No, seriously, we'll figure [the first delivery] out much closer to the time."

Airbus's decision will have to be carefully made to avoid offending any of its best-and newest-customers. Five US airlines have already ordered the A320neo. Among them are the A320neo's launch customer, Virgin America, and a strategic new partner in American Airlines. Both carriers also have current-generation A320s on order, which will be the initial focus of the Mobile plant.

But there is no sign the A320neo's three other US-based airlines - Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit - consider themselves out of the running. The A320 factory announcement in Mobile drew several airline executives, including Bryan Bedford, chief executive of Frontier-parent Republic Airways, and chief executive of long-standing Airbus customer JetBlue, Dave Barger.

"Listen, we're game [to receive the first aircraft]," Barger says, "but we'll see."

Airbus chief executive Fabrice Brégier, however, reflects the conventional wisdom, naming the two airlines he guesses would be at the top of the list.

"Our first [Neo] customer was Virgin America," he says, but adds that American Airlines' order - temporarily removed from its books while the company is in Chapter 11 restructuring - was a strategic coup for the company.

"I will have to check with my commercial director," Brégier says. "I would guess maybe one of [those] two."